Devil May Cry was a phenomenon when it hit the PlayStation 2—it represented a level of action not often seen in games, not to mention being stylish, dark, and crazy. While the second installment didn’t quite meet the mark, the third solidified DMC as one of the best, if not the best, action series running on current consoles. However, with the leap to next-gen, Devil May Cry 4 has not only found its home on the 360, PS3, and PC, but also features a new lead character—Nero. With these changes, should fans feel alienated? Not in the least. Although the graphics are more polished and there’s a newcomer, the fourth installment is without a doubt true to the Devil May Cry experience and fun for the hardcore gamer.
The story is centered on the new character, Nero, and interestingly enough, is more of a romantic plot than featured the previous games. To many gamers, myself included, it’s interesting to see a Devil May Cry game be driven by a love tale. Nero’s relationship to Kyrie is simple, and something everyone has already seen before, but still enjoyable to watch. The voice actors also did an admirable job of bringing their characters to life. It’s intriguing to note that Johnny Yong Bosch, famous for providing voice work to Vash from Trigun and Kaneda from Akira, provided Nero's spoken dialogue and motion capture.
The opening cinematic shows Nero running through the streets with a bandaged arm. On his way to see girlfriend Kyrie sing, he plows through hordes of demons. He arrives just in time to give Kyrie a gift and see the church’s leader, Sanctus, perform his sermon. We find out that this religious group is called the “Order of the Sword” and worships the Dark Knight Sparda as their savior. The next scene is definitely a shocker: Dante busts into the room, apparently kills Sanctus, and starts wreaking havoc. Worried that this murderer would harm Kyrie, Nero then faces off against Dante (which serves as a tutorial fight of sorts). Although Dante is an enemy character through half of the title, don’t fret: he's playable. The story follows the template laid out by Devil May Cry 3 when it comes to progression and presentation; the gameplay sequences are expertly interlaced with the narrative and never feel too overbearing. Devil May Cry 4’s plot is simple and ultimately predictable, but regardless, the writing staff executed it in a satisfying manner. Of course, it goes without saying that there're plenty of one-liners…and action is always the name of the game.
Now despite the praise I just heaped out on the game’s cinematics, there are some issues to speak of. First of all, Nero’s presence and origins could have served as a potential plot point, and would’ve made the game much more logical. As it stands, the gamer is rather confused as to how he fits in the DMC universe. Little is explained about what Nero is, where he came from, and why he needs to be there. Don’t take that the wrong way though; Nero is a cool character and it’s interesting to see someone else take the reins. He's cocky and brash like Dante, but has a slightly different charm. It’s just a pity that the plot basically leaves him with nothing. Also, despite appearances from old characters like Trish and Lady, DMC4 feels very “detached” from the previous titles. Still, with top-notch production values and presentation, DMC4 plays out nicely.
The gameplay also evolves what the previous DMC games had to offer, rather than taking it to the next level. Although the “Devil Bringer” mechanic has been heavily advertised as something new for the series, fans don’t have to worry because DMC4 still feels rooted in a classic formula. If anything, it’s a mix of classic and fresh, considering the differentiating play styles between newcomer Nero and veteran Dante. Dante plays like the previous games; his sword “Rebellion” is available right off the bat and his trademark guns “Ebony and Ivory” follow suit. Linking together combos and juggling opponents remains satisfying and fun, even if it’s very similar from before. Dante also upgrades with additional melee and range weapons in the game, some of which are pretty interesting. The “Pandora” in particular is pretty cool, notably due to its ability to transform. Additionally, Dante has other fighting “styles” just like he did in DMC3. Trickster focuses on speed and dodging, Gunslinger supports special attacks for range weapons, Swordmaster coincides with melee weapons, and lastly Royal Guard allows players to minimize damage from enemy attacks. Although Dante doesn’t have as much as he did in DMC3, there's still a great variety of weapons and styles to pick from—and better yet, with the ability to upgrade skills and abilities, it gives the player plenty of ways to kick ass.
Of course, Dante’s play mechanics are inconsequential at the start—as Nero is your warrior for the first half of the game. His play style is somewhat similar to Dante, notably with his use of a sword and gun, but he has subtle distinct nuances, "Devil Bringer" being one of them. By using his cursed demon arm, Nero can grab onto enemies, throw them around, exploit weaknesses, link together unique chains of attacks, and even reach new areas. Basically it’s a grab and throw mechanic. Dante just fights enemies outright, whereas Nero relies more on timing things right, using his arm, and catching enemies with counters. For example, when Nero is behind a knight armor enemy, he can grab its weapon, stab with it, and toss said foe aside. Additionally, Nero can upgrade his abilities and skills just as Dante can, with the allocation of Brave Souls. Truthfully, Nero doesn’t drastically change Devil May Cry's formula and may not serve to bring the “newness” critics are looking for. It’s more about bringing a character that’s tweaked differently than Dante but who still “fits” within the universe of DMC. To put it simply, Nero is a fun character to play as, and his presence enhances the appeal of DMC4 even if it doesn’t define it.
An interesting note about Nero is his “Exceed” system. His sword has some sort of engine in it, and can actually be revved up with the left trigger. Doing so stocks up power in his “Exceed” gauge, thereby allowing Nero increased damage and some additional flashy moves. It’s not the most intricate touch, but something that feels kind of cool. Some gamers have complained about “constantly revving up the sword,” but that’s pretty unfounded—using the Exceed system is completely optional, and it’s neither difficult to do nor tedious.
The rest of DMC4 follows what fans are used to. The game is divided into several levels and can be played at a variety of difficulties—many of them frustrating, challenging, punishing, and if you’re up to it, great fun. The boss characters are imaginative and a blast to do battle with. Unfortunately they're recycled throughout, and not just once either. This makes the experience feel a bit cheapened, which is sad. It would’ve been far better had the developers gone ahead and included some more big baddies to face, because the ones that are there are exceptional. Another problem is that there are fewer extras for Dante than there were in 3, and Nero doesn’t score any additional equipment beyond his starting gear. Sure, he has upgrades, and the “Devil Bringer” is a cool addition, but why doesn’t Nero see any extra weaponry? By the end of the game, it makes Nero a little less appealing. Also, the stage design, while gorgeous, is a bit repetitive. There’s some backtracking, which really slows down the action and hampers the experience, somewhat destroying the game’s pacing. It’s a shame too, because the stages look amazing and the developers could’ve have taken some interesting routes. Hopefully the next game fixes this. Of course, the flaw that’s the most difficult to judge is that DMC4 plays so similarly to its predecessors—those who played the previous games (most notably the third installment) may have wanted a more fundamental change for DMC4, but on the other hand, the game still presents a frantic action experience at high quality, so in that regard, why dock it for being similar? When you get down to it, DMC4 is still a great action title—one of the best you’ll see on a next-gen system. It boasts 20 stages with multiple difficulties, several characters, and loads of extra challenges to tackle. Despite any nitpicking, it succeeds.
Graphically, DMC4 is a beast. It looks fantastic in motion, with great character models, animations and awesome backgrounds. The game really expands on its locales too, often venturing outside of dreary castles—ranging from snow-covered mountains to dense forests and more. The sheer sense of scale is just amazing, bringing to mind other such great action/adventure titles like God of War. The boss enemies are immense and it’s amazing to see them in action, and one of the final ones could pass for an enemy from Shadow of the Colossus--he’s THAT huge. Excellent weather effects and lighting also help bring the stages to life, and everything is intricately detailed. Better yet, the game runs without a hitch, not to mention extremely minimal loading time. Note that the PS3 version is saved onto the hard drive to cut that down, so when playing, everything loads faster. Many people have complained about the installation needing 20 minutes upon initial boot-up, but really, this helps improve the experience for PS3 fans. The 360 version has some loading, but even then, it’s bearable. The PS3 build though, is lightning fast. Realistically, both versions are practically identical in terms of visuals. If you have an HDMI 360 or a PS3, definitely invest in an HDMI cable and check the game out in all its high-definition glory. Perhaps the only downside to the visuals comes from the camera, which has been a nuisance in the previous games too. Although not terrible, the camera sometimes makes confusing shifts. One minute you’re running down a path, then the camera shifts, and you end up running backwards because of the abrupt change in viewpoint. It’s not glitchy or game-wrecking, just an inconvenience that could’ve easily been avoided. This is the only noticeable hitch in control, but for the most part, it feels tight.
The audio efforts are also exceptional in , in respects to the voice work and music. The soundtrack is a mix of series-familiar industrial, techno, and rock, most notably considering 3, but interestingly enough, there is a fantastic church-like choral performance as well that serves as a great contrast to the darker, grittier stage/battle music. The fantastic audio really furthers the presentation quality, and the song selections are great. Of course, not everyone will share the game’s taste in music, but even so, it’s fitting. The voices are also excellently portrayed. Nero and Dante have their share of cocky comeback. The game may not be strong on writing, but the performances feel just right and the voices are spot-on. Dante has changed with age and his voice actor has perfectly captured that in his role. On the flipside, gamers are given a great introduction to Nero thanks to some great effort from Johnny Yong Bosch. The dialogue may not be Shakespeare, but it works.
Is Devil May Cry 4 a worthy purchase? Well, consider the following: the game features 20 levels, two playable characters (and “Super” forms can be accessed), six difficulty modes, bonus survival modes, and a bunch of extras (including a “History of DMC” feature and an art gallery). There could be more to it, but as far as action games go, DMC4 is probably one of the best values around. More devoted fans may want to check out the special editions, which ship with a bonus disc containing the first four episodes of the Devil May Cry anime. To wrap this up, DMC4 has fast-paced gameplay, some new touch-ups, awesome visuals, and great audio. On the negative side, it doesn’t do much new, the camera work can be annoying, the bosses are recycled too much, and the stage design/layout could use some branching out. With that in mind, DMC4 doesn’t revolutionize the action genre as the first game in the series did. It is, however, a high-quality, well-made game that sticks to the series’ conventions, works well, and is a lot of fun to play.